Neuroscience attempts to provide an understanding of how the properties of neurons and of the synapses they form give rise to specific behaviors. Neuronal and synaptic properties are not static, but under the control of a multitude of neuromodulatory substances that tune circuits for different outputs in different behavioral contexts. Neuromodulators are substances that are endogenously released in the nervous system and modify electrical properties of neurons or properties of synaptic transmission on a moderately fast time scale. Neuromodulation is a primary source of flexibility in neural networks; it is required for the nervous system to change its responses to changes in input. Intuitive examples include modifications in the response of a sensory system such as olfaction or vision to changes in the strength (gain) of the stimulus (strong or weak odors or low or high levels of light or contrast) or, more dramatically, transitions between sleep and awake states. Neuromodulation is present in virtually every part of the nervous system and every aspect of the function of the nervous system. Yet, with the exception of a few well studied systems, very little is known about the mechanisms through which neuromodulation affects network output and behavior. The goal of this course is to understand some of the principles underlying neuromodulatory control from the level of intrinsic neuronal excitability to complex behaviors, based on discussions of review articles and primary literature in the field.
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